Dancing and a voice that defy gravity

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Oct. 13, 2005

Dear David,

The dancers in Pilobolus do things with their bodies most of us could never do. They roll around on the floor in tandem to simulate waves. With their bodies they build structures for each other to climb on. Their bodies reacted effortlessly to each other, as if this is how all human beings once moved but have just forgotten how.

Or maybe they have learned how to defy gravity. That is what artists do.

DC and I saw Pilobolus perform in Carbondale this week. The company is named for a sun-loving fungus that lives in cow dung. Their dances are choreographed through playful improvisational sessions dancers in classical companies must envy. In one number, a dancer comically balanced on PVC pipes. Another number offers a silent slapstick collision of dancers dressed in satin boxing trunks. Your children would love them.

But there's much made for adults. "Aquatica" is set under the sea, where Pilobolus explores the mysteries of our own psyches. "Day Two" is a tour de force about the creation of the world. Wearing almost nothing, the six dancers moved to cosmically tribal music by Brian Eno and Talking Heads. Six gorgeous bodies gyrated, acclimated, mated, transmogrified, swam, flew, chased and fled as drums pounded and guitar chords clashed. In the audience a baby cried out, the appropriate response. The rest of us held our breath.

Art, when it happens, changes you. One night you're sitting at a concert and you know you'll remember that song and the sound of that voice for the rest of your life. That happened to me and I suspect thousands of others last week when Alison Krauss and Union Station performed at the Show Me Center.

All are wonderful musicians. Krauss is one of the few female instrumentalists in country music who can go toe-to-toe with the male musicians. Her fiddle is no prop.

The performance of the songs always seemed spontaneous, and her downright arid sense of humor was always at play on the stage. She introduced the bass player as the band's outdoorsman, a man who awakens early, puts on "his special outfit," walks deep into the woods and waits.

You know she's fun on the road.

Alison Krauss defies gravity in her own way. In "Gravity" she sings: "And the people who love me, still ask me, 'When are you coming back to town?'/And I answer quiet frankly, 'When they stop building roads, and all God needs is gravity to hold me down.'"

Rhythm guitarist/vocalist Dan Tyminski sang the song -- "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" -- George Clooney famously lip-synched in the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Krauss sang the song "Down to the River to Pray" for the movie's soundtrack.

Here she began singing it a cappella, the pared down band joining in toward the end. Her voice, as pure and powerful as I've ever heard, filled the Show Me Center. "Good Lord, show me the way," she pleaded as chills ran up and down the Show Me Center aisles.

Good night, Alison. Good night, Piloboli. Keep singing and dancing your way up and down our spines.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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